How much has religion in America changed?
The old boundaries and traditions are gone. Marrying and raising children in the same tradition we grew up in is something we no longer can take for granted or expect from our children.
The truth is, many of our young people marry out of the faith. Some become secular with no religion. Other choose to become very observant. Then there are still others who adopt completely new religions.
Our freedom in America allows the next generation to opt out of religious life and eventually disappear into the sea of secular culture. The Jewish community, for example, is always nervous about such assimilation because it erodes the fundamental viability of our future. Interfaith marriage has taken on, however, a whole new dimension when, in my travels throughout the Lowcountry, a good Protestant or Catholic, for example, will come up to me and say, "Rabbi, my granddaughter is getting ready for her bat mitzvah, what am I supposed to do?"
Yes, I suppose the pendulum of religious choices swings both ways today.
No matter the situation, grandparents have a real challenge on their hands. How do they navigate the choices their children have made?
This is not easy because grandparents have to take into consideration several factors before expressing their opinion.
First there is guilt. "Did we fail as parents?" This is a natural response, but an open society teaches us that no matter how much we did to model our religion, college and the working world change preconceived expectations. This is the price we pay for a country where there is religious freedom.
The problem grandparents discover is that if they say too much and come across as critical of their children's decisions, they run the risk of alienating their kids and perhaps losing contact with their grandchildren.
Grandparents must take on the skill set of the most sophisticated diplomats these days. And, let there be no mistaking it, there are boundaries grandparents should respect. It is important to rise above our emotions and remember the long-term strategy. By supporting adult children in reasonable ways, grandparents can make a difference in keeping peace in the family. Remember, there are repercussions to our actions.
The next assignment is to learn about the faith tradition the kids have chosen. Of course, there is one caveat: What happens if the kids decide they will raise the grandchild without any religion? Or what happens if they raise the grandchildren in both the mother's and father's traditions, allowing the grandkids to grow up and decide themselves?
These are tough questions, but the truth is that more and more couples take this route because they can't make up their minds and don't know how to resolve the issue.
Finally, don't give up hope. Despite the challenges, adult children will provide the openings to ways the grandparents can participate and even help educate grandchildren. Listen carefully and be patient. The adult children, hopefully, might grow in wisdom to see that the grandparents will have a lot to offer in the grandchildren's spiritual growth.
It takes time and it is a step-by-step process but it is a journey in which grandparents, even though they did not initiate it, can still play a part. Grandparents might have to stretch themselves in uncomfortable ways, but the end result of that ecumenicist attitude is a strong family.
Understanding and patience are our tools to facilitate and maintain peace -- which is what religion is supposed to teach us all.
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him on twitter.com/rabbibloom.